It wasn't so much a case of 'So long, Marianne' as 'How long, Marianne?' Since turning professional in 2006, Marianne Vos had never finished outside the top two in the World Championships road race, but all week in Ponferrada, the speculation was that her remarkable sequence might be about to come to an end.
There had been murmurs in the lead up to the World Championships that Vos was not quite at her imperious best, and that hazy speculation was brought into sharper focus in the team time trial last Sunday, when she was surprisingly dropped by her Rabo-Liv team.
It was certainly notable that Vos never seized the initiative when the road went uphill in the finale of Saturday's elite women's road race, yet the Dutchwoman scarcely missed a beat nonetheless. When Lizzie Armitstead (Great Britain) forced the pass on the penultimate climb of the Mirador, for instance, Vos was quickly onto her wheel, and then responded by stringing out the leading group by setting a searing pace on the sinuous descent.
A lap later, Vos joined Armitstead, Emma Johansson (Sweden) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) when they punched clear on the Mirador, and as they plunged down the other side, it appeared as though the rainbow jersey would be decided in a four-woman sprint.
After three gold medals and five silvers in eight attempts, it seemed as though Vos was destined to maintain her remarkable record, but hesitation deepened the fissures in the leading quartet's uneasy alliance, and they were swept up by the chasers within sight of the line. Vos tried to dream it up all over again in the sprint, but had to settle for 10th as Pauline Ferrand-Prévot charged to the title.
"I wasn't sure of my strength when I was in the group of four, and then I didn't have the power to do it in a sprint at the end," Vos said. "I was a little bit frustrated that I didn't live up to the work that the team did, because they were really good.
"It's the world championships and when you're the champion, it always hurts to give away your title. But we did what we could."
Vos' status in her home country is such that Dutch national broadcaster NOS had laid on a makeshift studio next to the finish, and she was ushered there immediately on crossing the line. While La Marseillaise sounded in the background to fete her Rabo-Liv teammate Ferrand-Prévot, Vos discussed her afternoon with a degree of regret but no rancour.
"I'm happy that it went to Pauline, because she's been riding at a very high level, and she deserves this," Vos said. Two other Rabo-Liv riders, of course, were absent from the Dutch team at Saturday's race – Annamiek van Vleuten and Amanda van der Breggen were ruled out after falling during last weekend's team time trial.
"With Anna and Annemiek, maybe we could have played some other game as a team in the finale," Vos said. "But the others filled those spots very well. Today the whole team had full control of the race, gave me a lot of confidence in the race, for the final. I feel like we did everything we could."
Though Vos did not seize the initiative on the Mirador as she did so memorably on the Cauberg and Via Salviati in the past two years, she did have the wherewithal to follow when Armitstead and Johansson's forcing near the summit led to the formation of what seemed destined to be the winning move.
Afterwards, Armitstead was critical of Vos and Johansson's respective contributions on the front as the road flattened out on the approach to the final kilometre. It was, Vos explained, a question of mind-set – rather than ride to secure a ninth successive podium place, she staked everything on a fourth rainbow jersey.
"If I had to start the sprint, then Armistead would have been stronger, perhaps," Vos said. "I was riding for a world title, not for a medal. That's how it is, and we have to live with it."
Vos being Vos, of course, her challenge didn't end there. When the four leaders were swept up in the finishing straight, she immediately positioned herself for the sprint. In another gamble, she opened her effort from distance, but once Ferrand-Prévot came past, she slowed up and rolled home in 10th place.
"That's cycling. That's part of the game," Vos said. "There comes a time when such a sequence comes to an end. But I would have preferred to have postponed it for another year."